It’s not enough for some people to assume that, of all the hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, within the vast Milky Way, itself containing 200,000,000,000 stars, is one small dot of life upon which lies the focus of divine purpose. These people must reduce the scope of divine attention even more narrowly so as to place themselves in a maximally exclusive group. This they have done and do in the following ways.
- They have invoked their holy book to claim the soullessness of other humans, thereby claiming the right to subordinate or destroy these humans, as well as their cultures.
This requires the presumption that humans have eternal souls, and that some people are either created soulless, or have forfeited their souls. Fortunately for them, that same holy book provides bald assertions that fill in these pieces of the ontic. This allowed Christian minsters to invoke the Holy Bible to justify slavery, and the annexation of native lands. Justifications have centered around the lack of souls for some races (The curse of Noah’s son Ham), as well as the divine predestination of some humans to dominate others.
- They have claimed that their god has ordained their nation to be a pivotal agent in human affairs.
This has given many nations throughout history the sense that global domination or hegemony has been sanctioned and preordained by God. There is much irony that emerges from these claims. For “Christian” nations, the irony is that secular nations are often far superior on social variables such as incarceration rates and crime rates. For “Muslim” nations, their superior standing with Allah has somehow placed them far behind infidel nations in terms of scientific and technological advances.
- They have defined their own religious culture as superior to the larger culture in which they are embedded.
The irony here is that statistics do not show these religious cultures as superior under the criteria of their own moral codes. For example, for American Evangelicals divorce rates are higher than the national average, they endorse torture to a greater degree, and are far more obese than the national average1.
Now some might claim that those who interpreted the holy book in such a way were not “real” believers. This leads us to 2 questions.
- Why did God author an opaque book of truth? Did God author a book full of truths by which we can live better lives, yet obscure those truths to a such a degree that they are not even close to being consistently and coherently accessed by the community of believers in that book? Or is it more probable that the religion emerging from the book has survived merely because the book’s obscure and malleable truths have allowed it to adapt to ever-evolving social and moral conditions?
- Where did the “true” christians who presumably knew better not rise up in protest at the time? The smattering of anecdotes that can be found of such protests seems embarrassingly sparse along side the multitude of believers who practiced the disparagement, marginalization and enslavement of “infidels”.
While attempting to classify one’s self in an exclusive group is quite human and not limited to religious groups, it becomes a shameful thing when the authority of a god is invoked to justify the atrocities that have blemished human history. We would do well to relieve ourselves of the superstitious deities that have grounded such atrocities. Whether or not godless reason will lead us into a more harmonious existence is yet to be seen. But religion has been given a few bloody centuries too many.
We are all part of one insignificant flash-in-the-pan of an enormous universe. There is no personal god though which we might escape this insignificance. The only significance we can hope for is a subjective significance derived from mutual respect and sympathy. But as subjective beings, this is enough for a fulfilling life of warm human inclusivity.
1. The actual obesity study.